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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Baila Olidort
"Who is like Israel, a nation one on earth" (II Samuel 7:23)
"If one Jew suffers, we all feel pain." (Talmud, Shevuot 39a)
In the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Israel, when Jews everywhere feel shock, anger and terrible sadness, we depend upon one another for the sup-port and solidarity that Jewish people have always and should always share and expect, unconditionally.
At times like these, the attempt by individual Jews or groups of Jews to explain and empathize with Palestin-ian grievances, is morally confused.
A recent conversation with a well-meaning friend took a detour on this subject. My deeply empathetic friend wanted me to understand that his moral compass simply does not distinguish between individuals on the basis of their group identity. I put the hypothetical dilemma to him: Stranded in a desert with just enough water to save one person, whom would he save-his neighbor or a stranger? He wouldn't distinguish, he said, on that basis. When asked how he would decide if the choice was between saving his son or a stranger, he still couldn't say. To be sure, he loves his son. But preferring his son's life to that of a stranger's confuses his stated moral ideal. Ultimately he conceded that if put to the test, he would most likely save his son.
As Israel-reeling from so much loss and tragedy-stands isolated and scapegoated by the nations of the world, the climate is ripe for a reordering of priorities. When the demons of anti-Semitism we thought long since buried in the ashes of Europe resurface-in some cases with undisguised enthusiasm-some old truths about the nature of our place among the nations of the world assume a sobering clarity. In this post-post-anti-Semitic age, the notion of an am kadosh, a separate people, deserves renewed consideration. Judaism defines us as a people apart; and in some evil way, the world concurs.
This is a cause for reflection on Jewish particularist sensibilities, even if at the expense of our universalist aspirations. No mature worldview can ignore prioritization in relating to our fellow humans.
As Judaism recognizes a respect for the common humanity shared by all people, it also demands that we differentiate in fulfilling our moral obligations according to lived social ties, which ultimately determine individual identity.
Judaism's particularist ethics of obligation reinforce the morality of relations in a way that might be applied on the individual and macro level for all. But it is especially true for the Jewish people, because our common membership is not based on a shared culture or common interest: ours is a community that ultimately finds its unity in a mystical covenant. We are bound, irrevocably, to one another and to G-d, by virtue of our collective soul.
Maybe this is why the disappointment is so profound when a Jew misplaces his or her solidarity. We should not need-and, G-d willing, we will not need-the world to remind us that we must nurture in unconditional love, the bond that defines us one people, and in this way, work together in good times and in hard times, toward the fulfillment of our unique destiny.
Reprinted from the summer 2002 issue of Wellsprings, a journal of Jewish thought published by Lubavitch Youth Organization in NY.
"See, I have set the land before you," Moses relates in this week's Torah portion, Devarim. "Come and possess the land G-d swore unto your fathers."
Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator whose explanation on the text expresses its most literal meaning, explains that the Jewish people did not have to wage war in order to take possession of the land of Israel; had they not sent the spies, they would not have needed any weapons.
"There is no one to contest the matter," Rashi comments. Since G-d Himself promised the land to the Jews, no one in the whole world could have prevented this from happening.
Historically, however, we see that instead of a miraculous entry into the land, the Jewish people did indeed engage in battle with their enemies. Their lack of faith and insistence that Moses send spies to bring back a report, spoiled their opportunity to enter the land unopposed, and made it necessary for them to follow a natural procedure instead of a miraculous one. In other words, it was their own negative attitude and conduct which forced them to wage wars in order to assert their Divine right to the land.
This contains a moral for our own times and present condition:
The Torah tells us that the Final Redemption with Moshiach will be very much like our first redemption from Egypt, but will be accompanied by even more wonders and miracles. It follows that if the entry and settlement of the land of Israel was supposed to be accomplished in a supernatural manner the first time ("There is no one to contest the matter, and you need not wage war"), how much more so will it be miraculous in our own times, with the Messianic Redemption!
Again, just as before, the entire matter depends on us. We must show absolute faith in G-d and His promise that the entire land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. We must not be afraid to inform the nations of the world - unequivocally - that the land of Israel is our eternal legacy.
As Rashi explains on the very first verse of the Torah, "The whole earth belongs to G-d; He created it and gave it to whom He saw fit. [The land of Israel] was given to [the nations] by His will, and by His will He took it from them and gave it to us!"
When we will demonstrate this true and absolute faith in G-d, we will immediately merit that "no one will contest this, and there will be no more wars nor the need for any weapons."
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Devarim, 5747
First haircut is 3-year-old's rite of passage into Judaism
By Ronnie Caplane
Looking downright angelic, 3-year-old Shalom Dov Ferris sat perched on a makeshift throne - a dining room chair topped with a booster seat, draped with a sheet - and presided over the living room filled with children and adults, about 60 people in all.
Balloons, happy birthday plates and napkins, and goody bags made to look like tallitot - colored in blue stripes with strings hanging from the corners - decorated the room. In the center was a long table containing bowls of coleslaw, potato salad, guacamole and chips, and heated chafing dishes filled with hot dogs wrapped in bread. On another table against a back wall were two oversized birthday cakes studded with jellybeans and decorated with brightly colored frosting.
Although better attended than most, it looked like any child's birthday party.
But this wasn't an ordinary party.
Shalom's father, Yehuda Ferris, is the rabbi at Chabad House of Berkeley. Members of that community, family and friends had come to the Ferris' house on a rainy Sunday morning to celebrate Shalom's third birthday and to witness his first haircut, a ritual known as upsherenish or upsheren.
Looking like a picture of sweetness, Shalom was dressed in a tie, a maroon vest, plaid pants and a yarmulke for the occasion. His soon-to-be-sheared soft, fine, wispy curls circled his head.
Before Shalom was brought into the room, Ferris explained that the Torah compares man to the trees of the field. Since the branches of a tree are not cut during its first three years, so a boy's hair is not cut until his third birthday.
"As with sheep, the first shearing belongs to G-d," Ferris said, adding that the side locks or payot are left uncut. "You should not round off the side of your face." This custom, he explained, was probably a reaction to the practices of idolaters at the time the ritual was first introduced, and the payot are left uncut "lest we become idolaters."
When his mother, Miriam, carried the birthday boy into the room, everyone applauded.
"Do you want to get a haircut?" his father asked, to which Shalom gave an enthusiastic yes. After he was seated, Shalom got a multicolored, swirled lollipop and a tzedakah box. Each person who cuts the hair is expected to give Shalom something to deposit in the box, Ferris explained.
And this is no ordinary first haircut. It marks a Jewish boy's induction into Jewish education and life. Tomorrow, Shalom will be wrapped in a tallit and carried into school for the first time to officially begin the study of Torah. He'll sit on the teacher's lap, read honey-covered letters of the alef-bet, lick off the honey, and then the other children will throw candy at him. The lesson is simple: Learning is sweet.
"It's sweeter than honey and better than money," Ferris said.
Standing at a microphone, Ferris acted as sort of a master of ceremonies, explaining the ritual, making jokes and calling up people to take a snip of his son's hair.
Obviously well prepared for the event, Shalom sat quietly as his father summoned a Kohen to make the first snip. After the Kohens came the Levites. There being none, he then invited the other guests to come up. Even Mom got a turn, and as the locks were cut, they were carefully placed in a Ziploc bag.
"You do not have to wash your hands after cutting the hair," Ferris said. He added that there used to be a custom of weighing the hair after it was all cut, and then the father would donate the value of the hair's weight. It's a custom that Ferris was relieved to say is no longer practiced.
Video, digital and even disposable cameras recorded the ritual, and Ferris told the story of when Moses Maimonides was being knighted.
"He forgot what he was supposed to say, so when the queen brought the sword down he said, 'Manish tanah ha'lilah ha zeh,'" Ferris said. Confused by this rather unorthodox response, the queen turned to one of her guards and asked, "Why is this knight different from all other knights?"
One of the mitzvot that Shalom will be expect to keep will be wearing the tzitzit - an undergarment without side seams and with strings hanging from the four corners - under his shirt. This is to remind him to keep the 613 mitzvot. In keeping with the occasion, Shalom was given two baby-sized ones, both with choo choo trains painted on them.
When the hair cutting was done, the party began. Adults chatted and ate while the children ran around.
"It's bittersweet," said Miriam Ferris of this lifecycle event. Shalom is the youngest of her nine children. While it's hard to see her children grow up, she's philosophical about it. "You don't want them to be babies forever."
And to those who mourn the loss of Shalom's lovely curls, she said, "They don't have to comb it every day while he sits there and struggles."
Reprinted from the S. Francisco Jewish Bulletin
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16 Adar, 5712 
Sholom u'Brocho [Peace and Blessing]:
I have duly received your letter of the 8th of Shevat, but this is the first opportunity to answer it. Should there be any good news in the meantime, you will no doubt let me know.
You seem to be disturbed because you feel that you have not attained the proper level in Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments] and cannot see the "tachles" [purpose] etc., which makes you downhearted.
Leaving the details of your complaints aside, I wish to make several observations:
A feeling of dissatisfaction with one's self is a good sign, for it indicates vitality and an urge to rise and improve one's self which is accomplished in a two-way method: withdrawal from the present state and turning to a higher level (see Sichah [discourse] of my father-in-law of sainted memory, Pesach 5694).
If the urge to improve one's self leads to downheartedness and inertia, then it is the work of the Yetzer-hora [evil inclination] whose job it is to use every means to prevent the Jew from carrying out good intentions connected with Torah and Mitzvoth. The false and misleading voice of the Yetzer-hora should be stifled and ignored. Besides, as the Baal Hatanya [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism and author of Tanya) states (Ch. 25), even one single good deed creates an everlasting bond and communion with G-d (ibid, at length).
Thus a feeling of despondency is not only out of place, but is a stumbling block in the worship of G-d, as is more fully explained in the above and subsequent chapters of Tanya.
With regard to understanding, or lack of understanding, of the "tachles," the important thing required of the Jew is contained in the words of the Torah: "For the thing is very nigh unto thee, in they mouth and in thy heart (and the tachles is) -to do it." Understanding is, generally, the second step. The first step is the practice of the Mitzvoth. (See enclosed copy of my message to a study group).
My prayerful wish to you, as you conclude your letter, is that the next one coming from you will be more cheerful.
20th of Teveth, 5717 
Greeting and Blessing:
I was pleased to receive your letter... and to read in it that your position has improved, both materially and spiritually. As for the set-backs you mention, and especially your feeling of deficiency in your studies, it should be remembered that the Torah teaches us that the conquest of set-backs and the general settling down in life usually can be accomplished by stages.
You will recall that the Holy Land was also conquered by degrees, and as it was in the case of the physical conquest, so it is in the case of spiritual conquest. For just as it is said of the Holy Land that "the Eyes of G-d are upon it from the beginning of the year to the end of the year," so are the Eyes of G-d upon everyone of us individually, watching over us constantly and helping us in our determination to accomplish our conquests. Therefore, one should not be discouraged by the slowness of the progress, or even by an occasional set-back. You will also remember what you must have learnt in Chassidus, how destructive it is to be discouraged or sad, etc. On the contrary, any set-back should only call forth a greater measure of effort and determination to overcome it.
With regard to the financial difficulties, debts, etc., I trust that the position will improve. I am enclosing herewith a check from the Special Fund of my Father-in-law, of saintly memory, which you should invest in your business, as this will be auspicious for success.
Enclosed also is an excerpt from a message which I think you will find interesting and useful.
Hoping to hear good news from you and with blessing,
5 Av 5762
Positive mitzva 110: cleansing from tzara'at (leprosy)
By this injunction we are commanded that the cleansing from leprosy must be in accordance with specific provisions laid down by the Torah, i.e., cedar wood, hyssop, scarlet, two living birds and running water, etc. These requirements are found in Lev. 14: 1-7.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The Shabbat before Tisha B'Av is called "Shabbat Chazon - The Sabbath of Vision." According to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, every Jewish soul is afforded a "vision" or glimpse of the Third Holy Temple.
The Haftorah that is read following the Torah portion, the "Vision of Isaiah," is a prophecy about the Temple's destruction. Oddly enough, the word "vision" is used when discussing both the destruction and rebuilding of the Holy Temple.
About the destruction, our Sages declared, "A lion (Nebuchadnezzar) came in the month whose sign is a lion (Av) to destroy Ariel ('the lion of G-d' -the Holy Temple), so that a lion (G-d) will come in the month whose sign is a lion and build Ariel." Once again we find the same word - "lion"-referring to both the destruction and the rebuilding of the Temple. What can we learn from this?
In order to understand the connection between the two, let us examine the true nature of the destruction. We are expressly forbidden to raze a synagogue or place of worship. We are also prohibited from wantonly destroying an object of value. Why, then, did G-d allow His dwelling place on earth to be demolished?
The only instance in which it is permissible to tear down a synagogue is when one wishes to build an even more magnificent edifice on the same site. It follows that the destruction of the Holy Temple also fell into this category. The Second Temple was destroyed only because G-d wanted to build the Third and most exalted Holy Temple-the one that would stand for eternity.
The inner purpose of the destruction, therefore, was solely to rebuild. That is why the Midrash relates that "the redeemer of Israel" was born at the moment the Temple was destroyed: from that moment on, the true objective of the destruction-the Redemption and the building of the Third Holy Temple-could begin to be realized.
It is for this reason that our Sages used similar words to refer to both the exile and the redemption, for just as the Temple's destruction was an integral part of its rebuilding, so, too, is the exile an integral part of the Final Redemption and the coming of Moshiach, may it happen speedily.
You have dwelt long enough on this mountain; turn, and take your journey (Deuteronomy 1:6)
Even though "this mountain" - Mount Sinai - was the place on which the Torah was given, the Jewish people were not allowed to linger and were commanded to continue on. This teaches that a person must not be content with his own service of G-d but must travel great distances, if need be, in order to bring the light of Torah to another Jew.
And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren (Deuteronomy 1:16)
It is only during the present era, "at that time," that it is necessary to listen to both sides of a dispute to reach a just decision. When Moshiach comes and ushers in the Messianic era, judgment will be rendered through the sense of smell, as it states, "He will smell the fear of G-d, and he will not judge after the sight of his eyes and decide after the hearing of his ears."
Behold, I have set the land before you... to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give it to them (Deut. 1:8)
This verse does not say the land will be given "to you," but "to them"-Abraham, Issac and Jacob-an allusion to the resurrection of the dead.
For unto Esau have I given Mount Seir as a possession (Deut. 2:5)
Although the Children of Israel fulfilled an express command of G-d when they took over the land Canaan, G-d warned them that their desire to conquer territory should not extend beyond those lands He had explicitly promised to them.
(Rabbi Shimshon Refael Hirsch)
May the L-rd G-d of your fathers make you a thousand times as many as you are (Deut. 1:11)
When will this blessing be fulfilled? In the World to Come, when, as the Prophet Isaiah states, "The least one shall become a thousand, and the smallest a great nation." The Jewish people, the "least" and "smallest," will multiply one thousand times in number, in fulfillment of Moses' blessing.
"The Holy Temple will be destroyed, and the Jews will be exiled from their land!" a Heavenly voice decreed. "But the Western Wall of the Holy Temple will not be destroyed," said G-d, "so that there should always be a reminder that G-d's Glory resides there!"
The Jews would not forget the Holy Temple. Every year on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the day on which the first and second Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed, the Jews assembled at the Western Wall. There, standing next to the only visible remains of the Temple, they poured out their hearts over the destruction and beseeched G-d to rebuild the Holy Temple.
The Romans, the destroyers of the second Temple, could not bear to see how resolutely the Jews kept to their religion, and how holy they regarded the Western Wall. The Romans hit upon a plan of how to remedy the situation; they issued an order that all gentiles who lived in Jerusalem must dump their garbage daily near the Wall.
Day in, day out, the heap of garbage grew. Bit by bit the entire Wall was buried under a massive grave of garbage. The Jews mourned anew.
Many years went by. A very righteous Jew from outside of Israel came to Jerusalem to pour out his heart to G-d over the destruction. He walked through the streets of Jerusalem, seeking the Wall, but he could not find it. Everyone he asked shrugged their shoulders; they had never in their lives seen the Wall.
The Jew, however, did not give up hope. Day and night he looked for the Wall. Once, he came upon a huge hill of rubbish and wondered how so much garbage came to be accumulated at this place. He noticed a very old woman carrying a heavy sack on her back.
"Old woman, what are you carrying?" the Jew asked her.
"I am carrying a sack of garbage to throw on the hill."
The Jew inquired, "Do you have no place closer to home for garbage, that you are forced to bring it here?"
"It is an ancient custom for us to bring the garbage here. Once, in this place, there stood a huge, magnificent stone wall. The Jews regarded the wall as holy. Their conquerers, the Romans, ordered all of the city's non-Jewish inhabitants to dump their garbage So generations ago, we were ordered to cover the wall." She emptied her bundle and returned home.
The Jew wept and pledged to himself: "I will not move from here until I figure out how to remove the garbage and reveal the Western Wall."
Suddenly an idea came to him. He began walking in the streets of Jerusalem and whispered to everyone he met, "They say that a treasure lies buried beneath the hill of garbage over there."
The man himself took a shovel and began digging in the dirt. A short while later people began arriving. The whole city of Jerusalem was abuzz with the announcement of a treasure lying beneath the hill of garbage. People streamed to the hill with shovels and buckets. They dug for a whole day until the upper stones of the Wall came into view. The sun set and people left, eagerly anticipating the dawning of a new day. The Jew then took some gold coins from his pocket, covered them with dirt and left.
Early the next morning, soon after dawn, there was an uproar at the hill. Someone had found a gold coin. A second person found a golden coin and then a third.
The people started to dig with even more enthusiasm. Every day they dug deeper and deeper. Every day a few golden coins were found. But, they were certain the real treasure lay at the bottom. The Jew spent his entire fortune on his mission to uncover the Western Wall.
For forty days the people dug near the Wall, seeking to unearth the buried treasure. Finally the entire Wall was cleared of garbage. They did not find the treasure, but in front of their eyes a big stone wall loomed.
Suddenly a great storm broke out and a torrent of rain came down. It rained for three days, washing the Wall clean of any traces of dirt. When the people came out to see what they had unearthed, they saw a handsome wall with huge stones, some as tall as ten feet high.
On the spot where the earth from which Adam was formed was gathered by G-d's "hand," where Abraham brought Isaac to be sacrificed, where the first Holy Temple built by King Solomon stood, and the second Holy Temple built by Ezra and Nechemiah stood - on this very spot the third and final Temple will be built, when Moshiach comes.
Why is Lamentations - the scroll read on Tisha B'Av to commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temple - not written on a separate piece of parchment just like the Scroll of Esther (which is read on Purim)? When Moshiach comes, Tisha B'Av will be transformed from a day of sorrow into a day of rejoicing. As every single day we await Moshiach's arrival, making Lamentations more "permanent" by committing it to parchment is not really necessary and would imply that we had already despaired, G-d forbid. Purim, however, will also be celebrated in the Era of Redemption, and thus the parchment scrolls will also be used then.